Meet the Judges


Morgan Benshoff, Overall

Our State Store

Morgan Benshoff is the retail marketing specialist for the Our State Store, Our State magazine’s retail arm that celebrates North Carolina-inspired products. She helps design ads and emails and keeps an eye out for new North Carolina products to feature, especially handmade products. Morgan also has a background in the visual arts and shows her abstract paintings at galleries across the state. This will be Morgan’s third year judging the Made in NC Awards on behalf of the Our State Store. She loves seeing the submissions that come in, marveling at the craftsmanship, reading the backgrounds of each business, and tasting the delicious North Carolina-made foods.

Claudia Royston, Overall

Our State

Claudia Royston is the design director of Our State magazine. Together with her team, Claudia shapes the classic, clean aesthetic that Our State is known for. She works with nationally acclaimed photographers and illustrators to create the visually stunning editorial pages of the magazine. Claudia also collaborates with each department of Our State to maintain brand consistency.

Richard D. Wilson, Jr., Craft

Richard Wilson Fine Arts

Richard Wilson is a visual artist who uses reality and creativity to produce images that reflect the beauty in the world around him. His narrative paintings frequently feature his own family and children. Originally from Robersonville, NC, he attended Barton College and later received a degree in Advertising & Graphic Design from Pitt Community College. Richard has received numerous local, national, and international awards throughout his career and has been recognized by Fine Art Connoisseur, The Wall Street Journal, Art Collectors, Sunshine Artist, and Pastel Journal. Richard is the first African American artist to have a portrait publicly displayed in a North Carolina courthouse — his official portrait of George Henry White, the last former slave to serve in Congress.

Lentz Ison, Drink

Dram & Draught

Lentz Ison spent his early years in Las Vegas, NV, before finding his home in Greensboro, NC. Spending the last sixteen years in the food, beverage, and hospitality industry, he now focuses predominantly on new restaurant and bar development. Lentz has curated beverage programs for more than 30 different restaurant concepts, but his true passion lies in the unique and creative world of craft cocktails. He has worked alongside world-renowned bartenders, spirit ambassadors, and cocktail enthusiasts. In 2018, Lentz became the Director for Dram & Draught, a North Carolina-owned cocktail and whiskey bar. Since that time, Dram & Draught has grown from two locations to soon-to-be seven across the state. Spreading spirit knowledge through service industry-focused classes; tastings; and the United States Bartenders Guild, where he previously served as president of the local chapter, are just a few of the many ways he is helping to cultivate and nurture the bar community in North Carolina. A whiskey man himself, he finds the simple delight in a neat glass of bourbon.

Danny Hayes, Food

The House of Fish

Danny Hayes is the owner of The House of Fish in Aberdeen, NC. A native of Hamlet, NC, and an accountant by trade, Danny’s entrepreneurial spirit led him to change career paths and open a restaurant when he moved back to Richmond County to help his mom while she battled cancer. The House of Fish opened in April 2009 in Rockingham, NC, and moved to Aberdeen in June 2014. Danny serves fresh, made to order seafood using his own recipes, and his enthusiasm for what he does can be seen daily as he brings his social media fans into the kitchen.

Morgan Furches, Home & Garden

Red’s Home & Garden

Morgan Furches is the co-owner and buyer for Red’s Home & Garden in Wilkesboro, NC. Morgan and her family built and designed Red’s Home & Garden from the ground up in 2017. Red’s Home & Garden includes a Home + Gift Shop, two greenhouses, and a newly opened Outdoor Living Showroom. Morgan graduated from Appalachian State University with a degree in Architectural Technology and Design and has a passion for all things design and home. She loves helping customers create spaces that they can enjoy and be proud of — whether indoors or outdoors.

Justin James, Style

Opie Way Footwear Mfg Co

Justin James’s dream to start a shoe company started when he was just a kid. His dream evolved over time, and Justin decided he wanted to learn to make shoes from the bottom up, rather than designing something that would be mass produced by someone overseas. Every Opie Way shoe is cut, fit, stitched, and finished by hand in their small factory in Asheville. Sourcing materials as close to home as possible, Opie Way wants to change the way people look at footwear and provide an everyday shoe made in North Carolina.